|2015 Commencement Speaker Denzel Washington|
Two-time Academy Award®-winning actor Denzel Washington is a man constantly on the move. Never comfortable repeating himself or his successes, Washington always searches for new challenges through his numerous and varied film and stage portrayals. From Trip, an embittered runaway slave in Glory, to South African freedom fighter Steven Biko in Cry Freedom; From Shakespeare's tragic historical figure Richard III, to the rogue detective, Alonzo in Training Day, Washington has amazed and entertained us with a rich array of characters distinctly his own.
Washington most recently appeared in the film, The Equalizer, directed by Antoine Fuqua. Playing the role of Robert McCall, the thriller portrays a veteran covert operative who seeks redemption for his dark deeds. Washington also recently starred alongside Mark Wahlberg in the summer film, 2 Guns, a crime-drama produced by Mark Damon.
Denzel graced the Broadway stage this past spring at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in the Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun, directed by Kenny Leon.
In 2012, Washington started off in Universal’s thriller “Safe House”, directed by Daniel Espinosa, and released on February 10 to an opening weekend of over $40 million (2nd largest career opening weekend). He also starred in Paramount’s Flight, helmed by Robert Zemeckis. His performance in Flight brought him Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award® nominations.
In the fall of 2010, Washington starred in the 20th Century-Fox action/thriller Unstoppable, once again pairing him with director Tony Scott.
In spring 2010, Washington returned to Broadway where he appeared opposite Viola Davis in a 14-week run of August Wilson’s “Fences.” His powerful performance as Troy, a one-time baseball star turned sanitation worker who struggles to reconcile his past and present, earned him his first Tony award as well as a Tony for both the play and his co-star.
In January 2010 Warner Bros’ released Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic Western that tells the story of one man’s fight across America to protect a sacred book that contains the secrets to rescuing mankind.
In June 2009, Washington appeared alongside John Travolta in Tony Scott's remake of the 1974 film The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three, for Columbia Pictures. “Pelham” tells the dramatic story of a subway dispatcher (Washington) who receives a ransom call from a hijacker (Travolta) who has taken control of one of the trains.
In late December 2007, Washington directed and co-starred with Academy Award®-winning actor Forest Whitaker in The Great Debaters, a drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas who in 1935, inspired students from the school’s debate team to challenge Harvard in the national championship.
In November of 2007, Washington starred alongside Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. The film, which is based on the true juggernaut success story of a cult hero from the streets of 1970s Harlem during one of America’s biggest drug wars, grossed $43.6M in its first weekend and earned Denzel his largest opening weekend to date.
March 2006 saw Washington in Spike Lee’s Inside Man. Co-starring Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, this film about a perfect bank robbery proved successful its opening weekend, grossing $29M and marking Mr. Washington’s second biggest opening to date.
As 2006 came to an end, Washington thrilled audiences yet again in Touchstone Pictures, Déjà Vu, re-teaming with director Tony Scott. In this “flashback” romantic thriller, Washington plays an ATF agent that travels back in time to save a woman from being murdered, falling in love with her in the process.
In 2005, Washington returned to his theatre roots starring on Broadway as Marcus Brutus in Julius Caesar. The show was well-received by critics and fans alike.
In 2004, Washington collaborated with director Tony Scott on Man On Fire. In this film, Washington plays an ex-marine who has been hired to protect a young girl, played by Dakota Fanning, from kidnapping threats. That same year, Washington was also seen in The Manchurian Candidate, a modern day remake of the 1962 classic film for Paramount Pictures. In the film, directed by Jonathan Demme, Washington starred along side Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber, in the part that Frank Sinatra made famous. He played Bennett Marco, a gulf war soldier who returns from combat and is unable to remember events as he has been brainwashed.
In 2003 Washington was seen in Out Of Time, directed by Carl Franklin. Washington played opposite Eva Mendez and Sanaa Lathan in the murder mystery thriller for MGM. He played a Florida police chief who must solve a double homicide before he falls under suspicion for the murders himself.
December 2002 marked Denzel Washington’s feature film directorial debut with Antwone Fisher. The film, which is based on a true-life story and inspired by the best-selling autobiography, “Finding Fish,” follows Fisher, a troubled young sailor played by newcomer Derek Luke, as he comes to terms with his past. The film won critical praise, and was awarded the “Stanley Kramer Award” from the Producers Guild of America, as well as winning an NAACP Award for “Outstanding Motion Picture” and “Outstanding Supporting Actor” for Washington. Also, in 2002, Washington was seen in John Q, a story about a down-on-his-luck father whose son is in need of a heart transplant. The film established an opening day record for President’s Day weekend, grossing $24.1 million. The film garnered Washington a NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture.”
Perhaps one of his most critically acclaimed performances to date was the Academy Award®-winning performance in Training Day, directed by Antoine Fuqua. The story revolves around a grizzled LAPD veteran, played by Washington, who shows a rookie narcotics cop, played by Ethan Hawke, the ropes on his first day of the soul-city beat. The film was only one of two in 2001 that spent two weeks at the number one spot at the box office.
In September of 2000, he starred in Jerry Bruckheimer’s box-office sensation ($115 million domestic gross) Remember the Titans, a fact-based film about the integration of a high school football team in Alexandria VA. in 1971. Earlier that year, he starred in Universal’s The Hurricane, reteaming with director Norman Jewison. Washington received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor and an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the world middleweight champion boxer during the 1960s who was wrongfully imprisoned twice for the June 17, 1966, murder of three whites in a New Jersey bar.
In November of 1999, he starred in Universal’s The Bone Collector, the adaptation of Jeffrey Deaver’s novel about the search for a serial killer, co-starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Phillip Noyce. He played the role of a quadriplegic police detective who is a forensics expert. In 1998, he starred in the Warner Bros. crime thriller Fallen for director Greg Hoblit, and in Spike Lee’s He Got Game, released by Touchstone (Disney). Also, he reteamed with director Ed Zwick in the 20th Century-Fox terrorist thriller The Siege, co-starring Annette Bening and Bruce Willis.
In the summer of 1996, he starred in the critically acclaimed military drama Courage Under Fire, for his "Glory" director, Ed Zwick. Washington portrayed Lt. Colonel Nathaniel Serling, a tank commander in the Gulf War, who is charged with investigating conflicting reports surrounding the first female nominee for a Medal of Honor. Later that year, Washington starred opposite Whitney Houston in Penny Marshall's romantic comedy The Preacher's Wife. Washington played an angel who comes to the aid of Reverend Biggs (Courtney B. Vance) whose doubts about his ability to make a difference in his troubled community are also affecting his family.
In 1995, he starred opposite Gene Hackman as Navy Lieutenant Commander Ron Hunter in Tony Scott's underwater action adventure Crimson Tide; as ex-cop Parker Barnes in the futuristic thriller Virtuosity, who was released from prison to track down a computer-generated criminal; and as World War II veteran Easy Rawlins, in the 1940's romantic thriller Devil in a Blue Dress (which Washington's Mundy Lane Entertainment produced with Jonathan Demme's Clinica Estetico).
Another critically acclaimed performance was his portrayal of Malcolm X, the complex and controversial Black activist from the 1960's, in director Spike Lee's biographical epic, Malcolm X. Monumental in scope and filmed over a period of six months in the United States and Africa, Malcolm X was hailed by critics and audiences alike as one of the best films of 1992. For his portrayal, Denzel received a number of accolades including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
In addition to his accomplishments on screen, Washington took on a very different type of role in 2000. He produced the HBO documentary “Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks,” which was subsequently nominated for two Emmy Awards. Also, he served as executive producer on "Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream," a biographical documentary for TBS which was nominated for an Emmy Award. Additionally, Washington's narration of the legend of "John Henry" was nominated for a 1996 Grammy Award in the category of Best Spoken Word Album for Children and he was awarded the 1996 NAACP Image Award for his performance in the animated children's special "Happily Ever After: Rumpelstiltskin."
A native of Mt. Vernon, New York, Washington had his career sights set on medicine when he attended Fordham University. During a stint as a summer camp counselor he appeared in one of their theatre productions; Denzel was bitten by the acting bug and returned to Fordham that year seeking the tutelage of Robinson Stone, one of the school's leading professors. Upon graduation from Fordham, Washington was accepted into San Francisco's prestigious American Conservatory Theater. Following an intensive year of study in their theater program, he returned to New York after a brief stop in Los Angeles.
Washington's professional New York theater career began with Joseph Papp's Shakespeare in the Park and was quickly followed by numerous off-Broadway productions including "Ceremonies in Dark Old Men;" "When The Chickens Came Home to Roost (in which he portrayed Malcolm X);" "One Tiger to a Hill;" "Man and Superman;" "Othello;" "A Soldier's Play," for which he won an Obie Award. Washington's more recent stage appearances include the Broadway production of "Checkmates" and "Richard III," which was produced as part of the 1990 Free Shakespeare in the Park series hosted by Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in New York City.
Washington was 'discovered' by Hollywood when he was cast in 1979 in the television film Flesh and Blood. But it was Denzel's award-winning performance on stage in "A Soldier's Play" that captured the attention of the producers of the NBC television series, "St. Elsewhere," and he was soon cast in that long-running hit series as Dr. Phillip Chandler. His other television credits include "The George McKenna Story," "License to Kill," and "Wilma."
In 1982, Washington re-created his role from "A Soldier's Play" for Norman Jewison's film version. Re-titled "A Soldier's Story," Denzel's portrayal of Private Peterson was critically well-received. Washington went on to star in Sidney Lumet's Power, Richard Attenborough's Cry Freedom for which he received his first Oscar nomination, For Queen and Country, The Mighty Quinn, Heart Condition, Glory, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues. Washington also starred in the action adventure film, Ricochet, and in Mira Nair's bittersweet comedy Mississippi Masala.
Additional film credits include Kenneth Branaugh's film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Jonathan Demme's controversial Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and The Pelican Brief, based on the John Grisham novel.